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UK pledges more cash to back online freedom

posted 30 Apr 2012, 08:29 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 30 Apr 2012, 08:30 ]

British Foreign Secretary William Hague pledges 1.5m pounds (2.44m U.S. dollars) to promote free speech on the Internet.

Britain is to spend 1.5m pounds (2.44m U.S. dollars) to help promote online freedom of expression, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday (April 30).
The sum would be in addition to the 5m pounds (8.1m USD) the UK spends per annum on promoting human rights and democracy, Hague said.

The British minister made the announcement at the Foreign Office's annual report into the UK government's human rights work last year.

"This morning I have announced to parliament that I have decided to allocate an additional one-and-a-half million pounds in funding, this year, to support our human rights work. This represents a 30 percent increase in funding and it will be devoted to projects to promote freedom of expression online and the implementation of the U.N. guiding principles on business and human rights," Hague said, speaking to an audience of diplomats, human rights advocates and journalists.

The Foreign Secretary focused on a number of countries around the world, including North Korean, Belarus and Burma. A major part of the report examined Middle East countries, in particular, Syria.

Hague said he was gravely concerned that levels of violence in Syria remained high, despite the presence of a growing number of U.N. ceasefire monitors, deployed under an agreement brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.

He urged other nations to consider more robust measures against President Bashar al-Assad, whom West and Arab nations blame for much of the violence during 13 months of unrest against his rule.

"I think it is right for all of us to put the maximum pressure on the regime, to adhere to the (Kofi) Annan plan, but to be clear that if they do not do so, we cannot go on for ever in this situation and other countries - you mention what France has said - will want to put other options on the table. The Assad regime must bear that in mind."

France says that if Assad's forces do not return to barracks, it will push next month for a "Chapter 7" U.N. Security Council resolution - which could allow action ranging from economic sanctions to military intervention.

Britain joined with other members of the European Union in urging China to exercise restraint over the blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, Hague said.

Chen is believed to be under U.S. protection in Beijing after escaping house arrest last week.

His wife Yuan Weijing and child did not escape and human rights activists have voiced worry that they and Chen's other relatives might have suffered abuse at the hands of police and officials angry about his escape.

Hague said Britain had been highlighting Chen's case since 2006 and added: "We will now monitor the status of Chen's family and associates and we look to the Chinese government to guarantee their rights, freedoms and personal safety. We remain concerned about the health of Chen's wife and daughter."

The minster said he did not know of Chen's whereabouts.

Neither the U.S. nor China has commented publicly about the case.